Athletics is growing as much as the university

As the school year commences, one thing can be said about the Northern Kentucky University Athletics Program: It’s no longer a one-dimensional, basketball-emphasized school.

That’s not to take anything away from the women’s unexpected, nearly unparalleled success en route to a second Division II National Championship in this decade.

But for the time being, there’s something to talk about athletically during the fall semester in Highland Heights.

For the second year in a row, the NKU Men’s Soccer team finds themselves ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 Preseason Poll, moving up from eigth to fifth.

The Great Lakes Valley Conference coaches picked NKU a half-step ahead of Lewis to win the league title. Obviously,the writers and coaches don’t think 2007 was a flash in the pan for the Norse.

It’s not every day that a team of any sport, Division I, II or otherwise, can take a national ranking of No. 1 and hold it for a month-plus. It’s not every day that a team sets a school and conference record for wins in a season.

The AP and head coaches might be on to something.

The Norse, by the way, look to continue their unprecedented conference winning streak of 18 starting on the August 29. The last conference loss for the men’s team? Late fall 2006.

Despite losing several playmakers to graduation in the spring, the Norse Men’s Soccer team fortunately return with a solid core. First-team All-American Braden Bishop enters his junior season looking to become one of the best midfielders in the school’s 40-year history.

Eric Ashworth, the top-returning defender from the vaunted “Norse Wall” of 2007 returns. Sophomore Steven Beattie, who gained third team all-GLVC honors as a freshman, returns for his second year. Beattie and Bishop will provide a solid one-two punch in addition to the league’s defense.

It’s not impossible for the Norse to continue their unparalleled defensive success of last year. But to allow just a dozen goals in 25 games and two in conference play is, well, again unparalleled.

The bottom line is that the sports arena will no longer desolate in Highland Heights when we come back to school.

In the last few years, John Basalgya has put his name in with the elites of NKU coaching past, like former men’s basketball coach Ken Shields, and present, like women’s basketball coach Nancy Winstel. The men’s team has a great opportunity to avenge last season’s defeat that prohibited them from being in the rarified air of a Final Four berth.

Holding opponents to two goals throughout the GLVC isn’t likely this time around.

Winning the GLVC and getting a spot in the Final Four, however, is likely.